Footballers in cave 'stronger than expected': Chief mission

PHOTO: Facebook video screengrab

The 13 missing members of Mu Pa Academy FC stranded in a Chiang Rai cave for 10 days are stronger than expected, the province's governor Narongsak Osothanakorn said on Tuesday.

The footballers aged between 11 and 16 and their coach, 25, were found by two British divers on Monday night.

In the video clip shot by the British divers, they looked exhausted after having gone without food and water inside the cave since June 23.

The boys are strong physically and mentally despite being trapped in the dark and flooded cave for many days, he said.

All 13 members of Thai junior football team found in flooded cave

  • Parents of the boys trapped in the Chiang Rai cave shed tears of joy and relief on Wednesday morning as they watched a video of them being treated for minor injuries.
  • The Royal Thai Navy SEALS shot the video and posted it on their “ThaiSEAL” Facebook page, showing the 12 boys noticeably thinner and looking exhausted.
  • But the boys swaddled in silvery blankets proclaim themselves in good health in the clip.
  • Their parents watched the video while they were waiting to talk to the boys via a specially rigged phone system.
  • They reaffirmed their love for the children and said they were forgiven for going astray, since none of them could have expected the June 23 cave excursion would turn into a nail-biting 10-day drama, with no clear end yet in sight.
  • Attention has now turned to how to get the group back out through several kilometers of dangerously flooded tunnels.
  • The navy has raised the possibility that the 13 could be in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province until the flood waters recede, at the end of the rainy season in four months.
  • But others say the boys could be out in a matter of days if the weather is on their side and water can be pumped out of the cave complex, and if they can be taught to use scuba gear.
  • Kobchai Boonarana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department, said it was up to the rescue team in the cave to decide whether and when the boys would be strong enough to tackle the journey out.
  • “We miss them and want to see them get out very soon,” one parent said as the video played. “They look thinner, but we’re happy they’re safe.”
  • Rescuers found all 12 boys and their football coach alive inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave Monday night.
  • The 13 victims from a local football club, Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai, have been stranded inside the cave in Chiang Rai province because of flash floods since June 23.
  • The group, mostly seated and with baggy football shirts pulled over their knees and illuminated by torchlight, asked for food and to leave the cave immediately, according to the video taken late Monday and shared on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEALS.
  • The group appeared exhausted, rake thin, sensitive to the light but lucid, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with the unidentified diver.
  • Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province late July 2, 2018.
  • The Chiang Rai governor praised and gave credits to two British cave diving experts who found the missing team. He did not mention the names but it is understood to be John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (pic, in blue).
  • Three British cave-divers, Richard William Stanton (L), John Volanthen (2nd-L) and Robert Charles Harper (3rd-L) arrive at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park near the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on June 27, 2018
  • 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant football coach went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province,
  • despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.
  • Bicycles and football shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group.
  • But the search has so far yielded no other trace.
  • The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation
  • International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM),
  • are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.
  • Plans to drill into the mountainside overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.
  • The 10-kilometre cave is one of Thailand's longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 meters inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.
  • Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.
  • Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.
  • "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," said Prayuth.
  • "They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.

The operation is still waiting for the SEAL teams to evaluate the actual condition of the 13 although they appeared to be fine in the video clip, the governor said.

If we had to choose between green as the best, yellow as mild, and red as the most serious, they look to green,” Narongsak said. Two or three of them looked yellow to me, he said.

“Last week, we labelled our operation to find the missing team as mission impossible, but now we have achieved a level of success,” the governor, who heads the rescue operations, said.

READ ALSO: What now for the boys?

The boys have taken refuge on a ledge about 600 metres from Pattaya Beach in the Tham Luang cave. The SEAL divers will take for them power gels, as they have gone without food for 10 days, and some medicines such as antibiotics and painkillers.

They will be evacuated from the cave when they are ready, the governor said. The method of evacuating them will be determined after taking into account several factors, including their health condition.

READ ALSO: Boys stuck in cave will soon be able to speak to families by phone

When they are brought out of the cave, they will be transferred to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital by separate ambulances. Four relatives of each footballer will be allowed to accompany them in the ambulance while being taken to the hospital.

During the days in the cave, they must have felt lonely and abandoned but now they will know that they were not and we will not let that happen, the governor said.

With cooperation from all authorities in and out of the country, we are creating a new chapter in the history of rescue operations, the governor said.